Yes, the Jaguars can afford to chase Kirk Cousins

Teams looking at 'once in a generation' opportunity with Cousins (2:03)

ESPN NFL writer Bill Barnwell marvels at Kirk Cousins' free-agency status and explains what Alex Smith's move to the Redskins means for the Chiefs' offense. (2:03)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Kansas City Chiefs' trade of Alex Smith to Washington makes a significant impact on the quarterback market this spring because landing Kirk Cousins now becomes just a matter of having enough salary-cap space.

The Jacksonville Jaguars can find a way to afford to sign him.

It’s likely that Cousins will demand a contract close to what Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford got last August. Stafford signed a five-year, $135 million contract with $92 million guaranteed and an annual average salary of $27 million.

Here’s how the Jaguars can get there:

According to OverTheCap.com, the Jaguars currently have $16.5 million in cap space for 2018. Take away $10 million to sign the draft class and that leaves the team with $6.5 million in cap space.

The Jaguars can clear $19.053 million by cutting quarterback Blake Bortles. The team obviously wouldn’t keep both. He would have to pass a physical before they can do that, since he had wrist surgery last Friday. His 2018 salary is guaranteed for injury only.

Cutting running back Chris Ivory ($3.87 million) and receiver Allen Hurns ($7 million) would help, too. That would leave the Jaguars with approximately $36.4 million in available cap space -- more than enough to afford Cousins -- and that’s not even adding in any other veteran cuts, salary-cap savings and cap rollover.

The Jaguars structure their free-agent contracts and extensions to include all (or nearly all) of the guaranteed money in the first two years, meaning defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, nose tackle Marcell Dareus, safety Tashaun Gipson, linebacker Telvin Smith, and cornerback A.J. Bouye are due no guaranteed money in 2019.

That group also has a collective dead money total of $21 million, with Jackson ($6 million), Bouye ($6 million), and Campbell ($5 million) counting the most. That doesn’t mean the Jaguars will cut those players, but it’s illogical to assume the team will keep the entire defense together for three seasons. It’s also illogical to think each will play at the same level they did in 2017.

There will be changes. Players will have to be cut or be willing to have their salaries reduced to stay. The nature of the salary cap makes it so, and it happens every season around the NFL. Plus, the Jaguars are going to have to come up with big money to retain cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. That applies even more if the Jaguars sign Cousins.

That’s why the Jaguars employ Tim Walsh and John Idzik. Among their duties is managing the salary cap, and they’ve done a good job with that to this point.

Denver, Cleveland, Minnesota, Buffalo, Arizona and the New York Jets are expected to jump into the bidding for Cousins. The Jaguars might have already made up their mind that they’re sticking with Bortles in 2018, but they do have a way to get the needed salary-cap space to be in the mix for Cousins.